Maternal Prenatal Distress, Maternal Pre- and Postnatal Bonding and Behavioral and Emotional Problems in Toddlers. A Secondary Analysis of the IRIS Study

Jens Henrichs*, Marlou de Kroon, Annika Walker, Anke Witteveen, Myrte Westerneng, Anneloes van Baar, Ank de Jonge

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Maternal prenatal distress (i.e., anxiety and depressive symptoms) increases the risk for childhood behavioral and emotional problems. So far, the potential role of maternal bonding in this association still needs further study. Maternal prenatal distress can affect the development of maternal bonding from pregnancy onwards. Maternal prenatal and postnatal bonding in turn have been shown to predict child behavioral functioning. We aimed to investigate whether maternal prenatal and postnatal bonding mediate the association between maternal prenatal distress and toddlers’ internalizing and externalizing problems. Data from a Dutch prospective longitudinal sample (N = 666) were used to conduct single and multiple mediation models. Mothers reported prenatal anxiety (State Anxiety Inventory) and prenatal depressive symptoms (Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale) at 24 weeks’ gestation and maternal prenatal bonding (Maternal Antenatal Attachment Scale) at 32 weeks’ gestation. At 6 weeks and 6 months postpartum mothers completed questionnaires to assess maternal postnatal bonding (Maternal Postnatal Attachment Scale). Mothers reported child internalizing and externalizing problems (Child Behavior Checklist) at 28 months postpartum. Maternal prenatal and postnatal bonding mediated the link between maternal prenatal anxiety and child externalizing problems but not internalizing problems. Only maternal bonding 6 months postpartum mediated the link between maternal prenatal depressive symptoms and child internalizing problems but not externalizing problems. Our study showed that maternal postnatal bonding more consistently mediated links between measures of maternal prenatal distress and child behavioral and emotional problems than maternal prenatal bonding. Interventions reducing maternal prenatal distress and promoting maternal bonding should be developed.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Child and Family Studies
Early online date2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2023

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